Saturday, June 20, 2015


I've been gone all week serving on a jury in a shooting case--here's the original news story from last July. It took five days, which was draining. It's weird to be immersed in one tragic day of other people's lives. We found Sam Babb Clonts guilty of Assault with a Deadly Weapon with Intent to Kill Inflict Serious Injury (we learned this is referred to as ADWIKISI). He'll now serve 69-90 months with court-ordered mental support.

I won't bother to detail everything, though I've heard this so many times I will probably never forget the narrative. Basically, three gun-obsessed people (two are roommates and close as brothers) get together to hang out and drink beer on the deck of a house. All three feel the need to keep their guns loaded and close to them. In fact, the two roommates both work either making or selling guns. At one point the victim changes into pajama pants, and even switches to a lighter gun as a result. That gun culture is just so alien to me. Why can't you keep your gun locked up, or at least leave it in the house, while you're drinking? Why in the world do you need your gun with your pajamas? What are you so afraid of?

An argument breaks out, some shoving and then hitting, and you end up with one guy shooting his best friend in the back three times with a Glock shooting hollow-point bullets. He would've shot at least one more time but his gun jammed (I now know what a "double feed" is. This was very close to a homicide, but the victim lived and is now paralyzed for life.

As it turned out, the victim was an entirely unlikable person, in my mind a bully and misogynist (as he explained in testimony, at one point he told his friend, "Tell your bitch to shut up"). But we do not have license to shoot unlikable jerks in the back.

One thing that struck me but which was never introduced was the fact that the two roommates were combat veterans (they served in Afghanistan) and the experience could've had an impact. We know how often there are wounds that we cannot see. Both men snapped, and one used his gun (to his credit, when the victim got mad he consciously took out his gun, removed the magazine, and set it aside). I hope Clonts gets the help he needs.

The defense didn't have much of a case, but needed only one juror (given the requirement of unanimity) so the attorney took us down a variety of useless paths, primarily aimed at showing how the police might've made errors in their investigation. Our deliberation never even touched on that. So we spent hour after hour listening to what ultimately was unimportant testimony (as in, why do we need details on who exactly put up the crime tape? Why spend 20 minutes asking about the mechanics of a gun firing? Did you really need to force us to listen twice to a 45ish minute audio interview with the victim?). We focused only on what the shooter did.

It was an unusual experience to hang out with strangers for so long hearing the exact same story again and again, and it became frustrating that we couldn't talk. By day 3 I wanted at least to chat, but you can't. In large part because we always had in stay in order, we referred to each other by our numbers (#8 was a really nice guy but famously often late so would get ragged for it). I was #5. It was a very diverse group of people, and we got along quite well--I don't even really know their names, but will not forget their faces. For five days of my life, I will receive a check for $92.

So now two men's lives are screwed up forever--one is free but will never walk, while the other will spend years of his life in prison. And there is no doubt in my mind that their need to have loaded guns close to them at all times is the primary reason they find themselves in this sad situation.


Lillie Langtry 6:19 AM  

Really interesting, though what a sad story. What an awful, pointless way of messing up two lives, as you say.

I've done jury duty in the UK. My case was a charge of perverting the course of justice (threatening witnesses in another case, essentially), and we also found guilty.

As I was a student at the time, I got no money at all except about five pounds a day to buy my lunch.

I'm glad I've done it though. It was a real insight into the court system, which I've not so far experienced any other way, and I've done my civic duty.

Greg Weeks 12:04 PM  

I agree with your last point. The downside was that it was terribly disruptive to my work and family lives because it lasted an entire week. Overall, though, I came out feeling that all sides were treated fairly, and in the jury room a diverse group of people had an intelligent, reasoned discussion about all the facts.

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